Macro Tracking Pitfalls
Hybrid Performance MethodOctober 14, 2019 (3 weeks ago)
By: Greg Sutton
Read time: 8 min
An obsessive and mentality toward tracking where you are aiming to hit your numbers perfectly every single day over time can do more harm than good. We want to be accurate and consistent but not at the expense of our sanity if things don’t go exactly to plan or if things are a bit off. This is what being flexible and having a flexible dieting mentality is all about. With that being said, it is important, especially when first starting out, that you acquire all of the knowledge and tools to track properly and accurately without too many errors. A discrepancy in your tracking here and there will not make or break any progress, but too many at once can alter your totals quite a bit.
Below I am going to go over some of the most common tracking errors that could hinder your accuracy and consistency. Give it a read and if you find that you are doing some of these things, that’s good! Make the necessary changes to keep on doing your thing.
1. Not tracking the oil in food
Oil is the most caloric dense thing you can put in your body. 1g of oil = 1g of fat = 9 calories, and that can add up very quickly if you are not accurately tracking your oil and fat consumption resulting in large increases your total calorie intake for the day and going well over your prescribed fat intake.
Oil sprays can create some confusion. Oil sprays are awesome in that they can let you cover a large surface area with a thin layer of oil, thereby decreasing the amount that you have to consume when cooking. The confusion comes from the fact that nutritional labels for these oil sprays will often say ‘0 calories’ and ‘0.0g fat’ per serving, the key words there being per serving. If a single serving size is below 5 calories, companies are permitted to list it as 0 calories and 0.0g of carbs, fat, and protein, even if the product does contain calories. Even if the product says ‘0 calories’, that does not necessarily make it true! The most effective way to track oil sprays is to place the can onto a food scale, turn on the scale and allow it to 0-out, spray as much oil as you need and place it back onto the scale. If it says -4g, then you know you have used 4g of oil and should track that as 4g of oil (4g fat).
Because of the calorie density, it is very important that spray oils, dressings, marinates, cooking oils, butter, and fats in general should be tracked as accurately as possible, not often estimating their intake but rather weighing them out on a food scale or using accurate measurements like teaspoons or tablespoons to portion and track your oil use.
2. Using Generic Size Entries Instead of Weighing Food
An example of this would be using an entry like ‘Medium Banana’. These vague entries are totally fine when you are estimating your intakes on the go but should not be avoided on a regular basis as this is not an accurate way of tracking intakes.Generic entries rather than weighing out your food over the course of an entire day can dramatically change your actual macro total at the end of the day. There is no point in trying to take the quick route in your accuracy when a small and simple extra step like briefly putting something on a scale can virtually guarantee as much accuracy as possible.
3. Not Tracking ‘Trace Macros’
This is something that often comes up with clients coming from other nutrition companies that do not track what is referred to as ‘trace macros’ when eating a food source that is dominant in one macro. An example of this would be meat and only tracking it as protein. This can be a present some issues with accuracy, especially with fat intake over the course of a day. Not tracking 3-4g of fat in one food source is not a big deal, but doing that 10x over a day can potentially have you 150% or higher than your prescribed fat intake or other intakes. Use accurate entries in your calorie preferred tracking app and let the app do all of the counting of the macros for you!
4. Not Tracking Snacks or Not Reporting When You Snack
Snacking is one of those things that can be very small and innocent at first but develop into a bad habit where you subconsciously snack through the day without realizing it. If snacking is something that you struggle with there are many techniques you can practice to help with this, one being to plan snacking into your day.
If you snack on the same foods day to day, plan those snacks into your day! This way you can portion out how much you want to have, track it and still enjoy snacking whenever you want knowing it is accounted for.
If you are working with a nutrition coach and you are not reporting snacking to them, let them know you have been struggling with that! Your coach cannot help you with snacking or any other accuracy issues if you do not express these issues to your coach. Report and try to record your snacking, even if it is estimations and even if those estimations put you over on your prescribed calories or macros.
5. Subtracting Fiber From Your Carb Intake/ Only Tracking ‘Net Carbs’
Tracking only your net carb intake is a practice used by some nutrition companies as a way to encourage clients to eat more nutrient-dense and higher volume foods since many plant-based whole food sources are high in fiber. This is done by subtracting total fiber intake from carb intake to find Net Carb intake.
Eg. You ate 200g carbs, 20g fiber, so you subtract 200-20= 180g carbs and that is what you recorded. However Fiber does have calories, roughly 2 cal per 1g fiber. Fiber can also provide energy in the gut that goes beyond caloric value but I am not going to get into that. Don’t get your calculator out and sneakily try to to give yourself more carbs! Report and record your total carb intake and total fiber intake just like any other macronutrient.
6. Weighing Foods Cooked vs. Raw
Clients often have a hard time understanding why this is so important. When the calories of food are calculated, it is always the raw weight. When you cook foods, you change the weight of that food when compared to the raw weight by either adding or removing water , but how much you change the weight is unknown depending on the food and the method/duration of cooking.
An easy example would be cooking a chicken breast on the BBQ. If you cook the chicken perfectly, it should weigh around 66% of the raw weight after being cooked, but if my Dad cooks it… it will be overcooked, which removes a lot of the moisture,drastically changing its cooked weight. It might only weigh 55% of the raw weight since overcooking it removed so much moisture, cooking the chicken in a sauce on a stove, BBQ it, pan fry it, bake it in the oven, etc… all change the cooked weight in comparison to the raw weight. Simply weigh your foods raw, record the raw value and then cook it! If you cook a large batch of food, weigh the raw total, cook it, weigh the cooked total and do the math to find out the % drop in weight from raw vs cooked so you know how much of the raw weight to record in your app.
7. Not Verifying Entries
Unfortunately, My Fitness Pal and other apps are not the best at checking what entries people are creating in their apps, going through and deleting ones that are.. well.. INSANELY inaccurate. Anyone can create entries in MFP or other calorie-tracking apps and it seems as though no one is double-checking these things and removing the incorrect ones. Before you choose an entry, double-check the accuracy of the macros by either googling the calorie count of the item or using a website like www.calorieking.com to verify the accuracy of the entry. If you are using an entry that looks too good to be true, it most likely is!
8. Not tracking Alcohol
Fat gain occurs when fat storage exceeds fat oxidation (you are adding fat to your body faster than you are burning it). When alcohol is consumed, it inhibits fat oxidation as the liver prioritizes metabolizing the alcohol, and this can cause an increase in fat gain. Alcohol is its own macronutrient and it carries a caloric value of 7 calories per 1g, although this is not shown on a nutritional label, just the total calories. It is very important that you only track your alcohol consumption into your macros manually and you do not use the barcode feature on My Fitness Pal or use entries on My Fitness Pal to track it, because that will not track it into your carbs or fats but rather its calories.
You might read this and find some holes in your tracking-game and some areas for improvement, and that is awesome! Making positive changes to your diet and lifestyle, learning more about what it means to have a healthy and balanced diet, learning and improving your macro or calorie tracking skills, improving your relationship with food, these things are all apart of a big learning experience
If you did find some areas for correction, try to apply these changes slowly, one at a time in a way that will make sure these adjustments are as sustainable for you as possible.
Cederbaum, A. L. (2012). Alcohol Metabolism. Clinical Liver Disease, Vol. 16, pp. 667–685. https://doi.org/0.1016/j.cld.2012.08.002